By the time some of Eric Holman's family members gathered last Sunday afternoon, the shock of his death in Afghanistan just four days earlier had shifted to memories that recounted a life lived to the fullest but ended too soon.
The U.S. Department of Defense announcement had provided the essentials of "… the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Staff Sgt. Eric S. Holman, 39, of Evans City, Penn., died Aug. 15, in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when he encountered an enemy improvised explosive device. Holman was assigned to 192nd Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordnance Group, 20th Support Command, Fort Bragg, N.C."
But the memories shared by Eric's mother Carol, his father David, sister Lisa, brother Kevin and stepmother Jan provided the portrait of an intelligent, enthusiastic, adventurous young man who, as Kevin said, "… had goals for everything. He would conquer a challenge and move on."
Growing up in Ohio Township, Eric graduated in 1990 from Avonworth High School with a 4.25 grade average, taking as many advanced classes as were offered and earning membership in the National Honor Society. He then attended Penn State, graduating in 1995 with degrees in criminal justice and mechanical engineering.
Commenting on the double major, David said, "Eric could have done anything he wanted to do."
During high school, he worked for his father's trucking company, doing both maintenance and mechanical work. "After college, he wanted to work with my trucking firm -- see the country," David said.
And he did just that, traveling from coast to coast, taking time out to marry in 1997 and learning skydiving as a hobby, where a conversation during a tandem jump with an Army helicopter pilot sparked his interest in the military. Although that conversation was brief, it was enough to convince him that he wanted to become a helicopter pilot, and shortly after, he enlisted, something that he had considered doing since the 9/11 attacks.
"He could have gone in as a commissioned officer," David said, "but he wanted to fly helicopters, so he trained in helicopter transmissions and power. He set a record in the Army for his achievements on Military Occupational Specialty tests."
Eric learned that the Army parachute team, the Golden Knights, had try-outs coming up, so he put in to be a member of the squad and he made it. It's an elite group, but not involved in combat, so rank is frozen. He jumped for two more years and then decided to train for Explosive Ordinance Disposition (EOD) as by then, he had decided to follow a military career. The Army sent him to school in Alabama and Florida, and eventually to the 767th Ordinance Battalion at Ft. Bragg, NC. He deployed to Afghanistan in January, 2012 and was scheduled to return next month.
Jan said that Eric was aware of the danger, but that he was not reckless. "He always took every safety precaution."
Carol agreed. "That was Eric. He just wanted to do it. But he was so organized and meticulous. He was careful with everything that he did."
Michael Hall, who attended high school as well at Penn State with Eric, recalls thanking him for his service to his country. "He said that, while appreciated, no thanks were needed because he really loved his job and loved serving his country. He was an incredibly intelligent and friendly individual who will be sorely missed by many."
Sharing Michael's views, classmate Tanya Evan Schmigel said, "He was a great guy, a very warm-hearted person who would do anything for anybody."
David shared the conversation with Eric's platoon commander who had called him from Afghanistan earlier in the day. "He told me that Eric had been embedded with a Special Forces unit near a village where the Taliban had placed improvised explosive devices. Eric, with an assistant, had just finished dismantling two of three IEDs they had found and they were checking the third. But the Taliban, watching from a distance, remotely detonated it."
The commander added that Eric had done everything by the book, but said, "Every so often, the bad guys get lucky, and that's what happened."
He is survived by his wife, Terri L. Holman; his son, Misha D. Holman; his parents, Carol S. Holman and David L. Holman and his wife Jan; two siblings, Lisa M. Long and her husband Kerry and Kevin L. Holman and his wife Ashley; his grandmothers, Marjorie DeCoursey and Katherine Holman; his stepsister, Laura Zeno; five aunts, Kathy O'Donovan and her husband Jim, Patricia Westfall and her husband Marty, Kim Graff and her husband Jim, Barb Westerman and Kathy Crisanti and her husband Sal; and five nieces and nephews, Jeremy, Robyne, Dean, Jadelyn and Audrey. He was preceded in death by his grandfathers, Joseph DeCoursey and J. David Holman; and his uncle, Jerry Westerman.
Friends were received at Devlin Funeral Home of Cranberry. Services were held on Monday in Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church Cemetery with full military honors. Memorial donations are suggested to EOD Memorial Foundation, 822 Coldwater Creek Circle, Niceville, FL 32578-1658. A memorial service will be performed in October by the Army Golden Knights at Grove City Airport.